I'm just back from hearing Barry Kennedy, CEO of Irish Manufacturing Research speaking in the excellent RDS Economic Vision 2020 series. He was speaking about Industry 4.0 - Robotics and Artificial Intelligence, particularly in relationship to manufacturing in Ireland. He spoke of the need for Irish manufacturers to innovate and to adopt emerging technologies. Encouragingly, the manufacturing industry in Ireland is over 60% indigenous. It is also largely small-scale, which, he said, may be the model for the future – for example small manufacturing businesses located proximate to the industries they serve offering “just in time” production of tailored items such as medical implants, etc
All of this got me thinking about the role of the human in creativity and whether the designer’s days are numbered. He spoke about “Cobotics” - essentially ease-of-use-assistants. Outside of manufacturing, borders and rules are blurring or disappearing too. For example the same “Geofilters” that allow an 11-year-old to proclaim a visit to Disneyland Paris can be customised and used by businesses for their marketing campaigns. In our daily lives we have tools that don’t just help us - they advise, corral and give direction; loyalty cards, associative marketing, predictive text – there are online templates, guides, videos and libraries for just about everything.
With so many, sometimes unseen, guiding hands helping us to make decisions throughout our everyday lives, it’s no surprise to find the same in the graphic design world. The graphic designer has lots of tools to help the design process: Adobe Photoshop filters can give images an array of styles and presentations; Kuler helps the designer choose colour based on any number of variations from original colour source to complementary or analagous suggestions; Typeface libraries and resources such as Fontshop offer many suggestions such as the best type pairing or even design templates; FF Chartwell from Fontfont.com, is a typeface that designs charts and infographics based on the information you input. Like many industries, relatively mundane tasks that sucked up a designer’s time and enthusiasm can now be made many times easier by artificial intelligence.
Similarly the crossover between what was exclusively a skill for a designer, photographer or illustrator and what anyone can do is accelerating. To create an image that looks like it was created in the 70s or even the 1870s, you don’t need a wooden camera and 8-inch glass plates; there’s a filter for that! Even a basic Microsoft Powerpoint presentation need no longer be basic. Powerpoint Designer is there to assist offering design tips and templates. Anyone can create complex infographics, posters, websites and stylish email campaigns relatively easily with the aid of tools such as Infogr.am, Canva, Weebly and Knowtify.
On the recent BBC Radio 4 programme “Is the babel fish now a reality?” Rod Alexander from Mymanu revealed an in-ear device that can translate with 98 percent accuracy. Might that mean the end for professional human translators? No. While the device was potentially 98% correct in direct translation, it might lose a lot of the nuance of language – sublety and humour, resulting in the true meaning of phrases risking being lost.
The same is probably true of design: While there are tools that can offer ‘look and feel’, when it comes to nuance, complexity and sublety, there is no subsitute for a human being, a ‘native speaker’ in design terms. Likewise, although the technologies exist to give everyone the ability to create visually appealing, workable designs in a variety of fields and formats, the menus are limited and therefore the outcomes are limited.
Barry Kennedy spoke about bringing technologies designed for one particular function into use for another, creating a new thing. All of this requires a human to see the possibilities of bringing diverse concepts together. They say there is no such thing as an original idea – and yet all ideas are original – but they are based on existing knowledge and experience with the spark of human personality thrown in. Creativity is not the ‘uncaused cause’. It is not a push button deliverable. Yet.
(First published February 2018)